Tag Archives: race/ethnicity: Jews

The Rise of the Jew-ish

The Pew Research Center has released the data from new survey of religious and non-religious Jews.  They find that almost a quarter of Jews (22%) describe themselves as being “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “nothing in particular.”  The percentage of Jews of no religion correlates with age, such that younger generations are much more likely to be unaffiliated.  Nearly a third of Millennials with Jewish ancestry say they have no religion (32%), compared to 19% of Boomers and 7% of the Greatest Generation.

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A majority of Jews with no religion marry non-Jews (79%); 67% have decided against raising their children with the religion.
Screenshot (33)As a result of intermarriage, the percent of all Jews who have only one Jewish parent is rising.  While 92% of people born between 1914 and 1927 had two Jewish parents, Millennials are as likely as not to have just had one.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wanna Be in the NBA? It Helps to Grow Up Rich

Part of what makes professional basketball appealing, for kids who love to play as well as fans, is the idea that a person can come from humble beginnings and become a star.  The players on the court, the narrative goes, are ones who rose to fame as a result of incredible dedication and extraordinary talent.  Basketball, then, is a way out of poverty, a true equal opportunity sport that affirms what we think America is all about.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz crunched the numbers to find out if the equal opportunity story was true.   Analyzing the economic background of NBA players, he found that growing up in a wealthy neighborhood (the top 40% of household incomes) is a “major, positive predictor” for success in professional basketball.  Black players are also less likely than the general black male population to have been born to a young or single mother.  So, class privilege is an advantage for pro ball players, just like it is elsewhere in our economy.

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The richest Black men, then, are most likely to end up in the NBA, followed by those in the bottom 20% of neighborhoods by income.  Middle class black men may, like many middle class white men, see college as a more secure route to a successful future.  Research shows that poor black men often see sports as a more realistic route out of poverty than college (and they may not be wrong).  This also helps explain why Jews dominated professional basketball in the first half of the 1900s.

LeBron James was right, then, when he said, “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I am not even supposed to be here.”  The final phrase disrupts our mythology about professional basketball: that being poor isn’t an obstacle if one has talent and drive.  But, as Stephens-Davidowitz reminds us, “[a]nyone from a difficult environment, no matter his athletic prowess, has the odds stacked against him.”

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Jewish Christmas — The Chinese Connection

My friend Andy Markovits passed along to me a very funny YouTube video that has been making the rounds. It touches on an intriguing aspect of American social history — the curious affinity of Jews for Chinese food. Ever since Eastern European Jewish immigrants began arriving here in large numbers about a century ago, they showed a special inclination to go to Chinese restaurants whenever they went out to eat non-Jewish food.

There was always something a little odd about this, since many of them normally avoided non-kosher food, and Chinese food is anything but kosher — certainly no more kosher than, say, Italian or Irish or generic-American food. (In recent years some Chinese restaurants have adapted by going kosher, but such cases used to be vanishingly rare.) Perhaps the sauces that smothered and disguised the food, which also tended to be finely chopped up, made a certain degree of denial easier? (Through most of the 20th century, the kind of Chinese food that American Jews were eating was usually some version of gloppy American-Cantonese.) And perhaps the special attractiveness of Chinese restaurants had something to do with the fact that Chinese — unlike a number of other ethnic groups in the U.S. — had no history of, or reputation for, anti-semitism? One can only speculate.

Here are some informed socio-historical speculations by two Jewish sociologists, Gaye Tuchman and Harry Levine, in “‘Safe Treyf’: New York Jews and Chinese Food“ (for those of you who come from the dominant culture, “treyf” or “treif” means non-kosher):

Three themes predominate. First, Chinese food is unkosher and therefore non-Jewish. But because of the specific ways that Chinese food is prepared and served, immigrant Jews and their children found Chinese food to be more attractive and less threatening than other non-Jewish or treyf food. Chinese food was what we term “safe treyf.” Chinese restaurant food used some ingredients that were familiar to Eastern European Jews. Chinese cuisine also does not mix milk and meat; indeed it doesn’t use dairy products at all. In addition, anti-Semitism, anti-Chinese racism, and the low position of the Chinese in American society also (perhaps paradoxically) made Jews feel safe and comfortable in Chinese restaurants.

Second, Jews construed Chinese restaurant food as cosmopolitan. For Jews in New York, eating in Chinese restaurants signified that one was not a provincial or parochial Eastern European Jew, not a “greenhorn” or hick. In New York City, immigrant Jews, and especially their children and grand-children, regarded Chinese food as sophisticated and urbane.

Third, by the second and third generation, Jews identified eating this kind of non-Jewish food — Chinese restaurant food — as something that modern American Jews, and especially New York Jews, did together. “Eating Chinese” became a New York Jewish custom, a part of daily life and self-identity for millions of New York Jews.

Whatever the reasons, this connection between American Jews and Chinese food has long been a solidly established social fact. (I don’t know whether this has also been true for Jews in Montreal and Toronto, or whether there are any parallels outside North America.) And I am told by people who know about such things (not just professionally, but from relevant sociological research) that this connection has long been a self-conscious part of Chinese-restaurant lore as well. If someone wanted to start a Chinese restaurant, the best bet was to have a Chinese community nearby — but, failing that, everyone knew that the second-best situation was to open the restaurant near a supply of Jewish customers.

As part of this pattern of ethnic symbiosis, one special Christmas custom (we might almost call it a tradition) that emerged among American Jews was to go out to a Chinese restaurant for Christmas. Again, the explanation is no doubt complex. Since most Chinese didn’t celebrate Christmas as a religious or family holiday, Chinese restaurants were likely to be open when other restaurants were closed. I would also guess that it’s easy to get a reservation at your favorite Chinese restaurant when the goyim are mostly having Christmas dinner at home. And the movie theaters are often emptier, too — so why not go to the movies while you’re at it?

For a celebration of this Jewish Christmas tradition, click HERE.  For a nice video on the subject from the Forward, see Jews and Chinese Food: A Christmas Story.

Jeff Weintraub is a social and political theorist, cultural and political sociologist, and democratic socialist who has been teaching most recently at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College. (Also an Affiliated Professor with the University of Haifa in Israel and an opponent of academic blacklists.)  This post originally appeared at his blog, Commentaries and Controversies.

Hannukah and Social Privilege

Privilege comes in many forms: class privilege, white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege and so on.  Being privileged means that you “fit” in the society in which you live and reap rewards by virtue of just being.

Recognizing privilege isn’t just a matter of being thoughtful or empathetic, it usually involves sacrificing something.  Sometimes it’s something big (like the belief that your success is due entirely to your talents and hard work) and sometimes it’s something small.

The person who sent this confession to PostSecret is admitting to feeling frustrated by giving up one of those small benefits that come with privilege:

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Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

When Jews Dominated Professional Basketball

Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice.  This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense.  All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field.  For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play.  If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball.  For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.

That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s.  Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities.  Basketball seemed like a way out.  “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow.  Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.

Jewish basketball team (1921-22):

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Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification.  At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.”  All stereotypes about Jews.  Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.”  Yep.  There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.

Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.

New York Knicks (1946-1947):

1946 New York Knicks Team PhotoCross-posted at Pacific Standard.

 

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Resistance to the “Redskins” Mascot: Racism in Perspective

The Redskins have been in the news lately – on the front page of the Times, for example — and not for their prowess on the gridiron. It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so.  “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide.

President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that if he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.”

Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive, and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it.  I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive.

In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities.  The Cleveland cap is the real thing.  The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.

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The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not intended to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos.  And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.”  This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American.  His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by the American Indian Movement’s Russell Means: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?”

Cross-posted at Montclair Socioblog; HT to Max.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

International Politics and the First African American Flight Attendants

“Next to being a Hollywood movie star, nothing was more glamorous.” This breathless statement, quoted in Femininity in Flight, was uttered by a flight attendant in 1945.  At the time being a stewardess was quite glamorous.  Like motion pictures do today, airlines trafficked in “the business of female spectacle.”  They hired only women who they believed to represent ideal femininity. Chosen for their beauty and poise, and only from among the educated, and slender, they were as much of an icon as Miss America.  And they were almost all White.

Victoria Vantoch tells the story of the first African American flight attendants in a chapter of her new book, The Jet Sex.  Patricia Banks was one of the first Black women to sue an airline for racial discrimination.  She graduated from flight attendant training school at the top of her class and applied to several airlines.  But it was 1956 and the U.S. airlines had never hired a Black woman.  After 10 months of trying, an airline recruiter pulled her aside and admitted that it was because of her race.  Which, of course, it was; airlines disqualified any applicants that had broad noses, full lips, coarse hair, or a “hook nose” (to weed out Jews).

Banks sued. After four years of litigation, Capital Airlines was forced to hire her.  She postponed her marriage and took the job (airlines only hired single women as flight attendants). When she put on her uniform for the first time, she said:

After all I had gone through, I couldn’t believe I was finally wearing the uniform. I had made it. I was going to fly. It was such an accomplishment.

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Individual women weren’t the only ones pushing to integrate the flight attendants corps.   International surveys showed that citizens of other countries knew that America had a “race problem” and this was a problem for then-President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.  They needed to do something flashy and they turned to flight attendants to do it.  If they could make Black women the face of such an iconic and high-profile occupation, they thought, it would help restore America’s reputation.  According to Vantoch, Johnson “made stewardess integration his personal cause.”

That was 1961; in 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act mandating equal treatment in the workplace.  The following year, in response to even more lawsuits, approximately 50 Black women were hired by airlines.  This would make them 0.33% of the workforce.

Patricia  Banks and her fellow first African American flight attendants, including Mary Tiller and Marlene White, would continue to face racism, now from co-workers, passengers, and supervisors.  Banks would quit after one year, citing exhaustion in the face of emotionally draining feminine work and a constant onslaught of racism.  She was a great flight attendant, though, and proud to show the world that a Black woman could shine in the occupation.

Here’s Patricia Banks, telling the story in her own words at Black History in Aviation. It’s worth a watch; she’s amazing:

Cross-posted at VitaminW and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

New CEOs: The Diversification of the Corner Office

Cross-posted at Corporate Governance.

Sociologists Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff began studying ascendance to the top corporate office 20 years ago and, while the population of CEOs is far from diverse, they report that they have been surprised to see as many women and minorities as they have.  Today there are 80 white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans at the head of Fortune 500 companies.

In a discussion about their book, The New CEOs, at The Society Pages, they ask whether the rise of non-white/non-male CEOs is really a disruption in the distribution of power.  Despite protestations to the contrary — “all CEOs, it seems, worked their way up from the bottom,” they say with tongue in cheek — almost all come from wealthy backgrounds.  The rising diversity, in other words, doesn’t include class diversity.

With one exception: African Americans.  Most African American CEOs, they show, did not grow up in wealthy families.  ”Many,” they write, “grew up with parents who were factory workers, postmen, custodians, day-care workers, or house cleaners.”  They refrain from speculating as to why they see this difference.

So, what’s next?  Zweigenhaft and Domhoff make some guesses as to the near future. The people positioned to be our next Fortune 500 CEOs will have graduated from college, got an MBA or law degree, will be currently earning more than $250,000 a year, and now hold a senior executive position.  Given these parameters, they conclude that:

…about two-thirds of those a step from the CEO office were white men, about 19% were white women, slightly fewer than 3% were African Americans, about 4% were Latinos, and about 8% were Asian Americans.

As the graph shows, compared to minority men, white women are far more likely to be rising into CEO positions in the near future.  Women of color, as they say, “almost disappear” in the data.  They explain that this likely has to do with their double minority status.  When hiring and promoting, people tend to look for ways of connecting with the potential employee.  A white man (usually doing the hiring) will see at least one thing in common with a white woman or a man of color.   As an example, they cite a study of executives with MBAs from Harvard:

…female Jewish executives all agreed that being female was more of an impediment to their careers than being a Jew, but many quickly emphasized that being Jewish, or different in any other way, was not irrelevant. As one put it, “It’s the whole package. I heard secondhand from someone as to how I would be perceived as a pushy, Jewish broad who went and got an MBA. Both elements, being Jewish and being a woman, together with having the MBA, were combined to create a stereotype I had to work against from the first day.” Another woman explained, “It’s part of the question of whether you fit the mold. Are you like me or not? If too much doesn’t fit, it impacts you negatively.”

These dynamics affect your entire career trajectory, of course, but Zweigenhaft and Domhoff believe they become even more intense as people approach the top office.  They conclude:

Culture (in the form of cultural capital), education, and class are all still in play. While gender and color remain the best predictors of who will make it into the upper echelons of the corporate world, beyond that, it’s intersectionality [of different identities together] wherever we look.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.